The Rev. Helen Havlik Luke 4:1-13 Lent 1 March 10, 2019
What are you most afraid of? What keeps you up at night with anxious thoughts racing through your head? What won’t you do because you’re afraid? How does fear get in the way of your loving God and loving neighbor? Lent used to be a time of preparing for baptism, confirmation and first communion, which all took place on Easter Sunday. Now Lent is the 40 days before Easter, not counting Sundays, where we focus on some personal “spring” cleaning. It’s time for thinking about where we may be falling short in faith so that we can move back toward God. This year we’ll be looking at what Jesus says and does about fear—and so that we can “fear less.”
Traditionally the Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent tells the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Following his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into a time of fasting and prayer. Spoiler alert: he passes the test and gives us some help as we face our fear of inadequacy. This morning I’m reading from Luke, Ch. 4, beginning with vs. 4. Listen with me to God’s holy word.
So if the Devil had a shot at you, what three temptations would he use? What would be irresistible? Chocolate would be number one on my list—especially if I could eat as much as I want and not have to worry about either my blood sugar or my weight! Right about now, as Spring is taking its own sweet time getting here, I could be tempted by a few days in a warm place. Then, as much as I hate to admit this, I probably could be tempted by the promise of some cold, hard cash—tax-free, of course. Now in and of themselves the things I’d be tempted by—just like the things you might be tempted by and even the things Jesus was tempted by—aren’t all that bad. Chocolate isn’t evil in and of itself—in fact they say it actually helps raise serotonin levels in our brains and gives us a lift if we’re feeling down. Relax-ation and money aren’t bad either—rest is part of the weekly cycle—even God rested on the seventh day! And money can’t buy happiness, but it surely buys our neces-sities and can do much good in this world. That’s the funny thing about temptations —they may not necessarily be all bad. Often the worst thing about a temptation and giving in to it is how bad we feel about falling short in some way. That we’ve sold out to our impulses and failed to live up to what we know is good and right.
The temptations themselves aren’t really the problem—whether it’s bread or chocolate or nice vacation. Though sometimes we get so caught up in condemning the temptations we lose the deeper issue. In the movie, Chocolat, a woman literally blows into a tiny French village with the north wind. She opens a little shop where she sells the most exquisite chocolate anyone in that town has ever tasted. But it’s Lent! No one is supposed to eat chocolate during Lent—right? It’s a sin to eat choco-late during Lent—right? While the townspeople focus on this one temptation, they, in fact, give in to a deeper, more sinister enticement that we often face—and that the Devil is presenting to Jesus. He’s offering Jesus the chance of a lifetime, the same chance offered to Adam and Eve. He’s offering Jesus the one thing we all want more than anything else—more than bread or chocolate or apples—the chance to be like God. To put aside our humanity and never have to be afraid of falling short again.
Now that’s being put to the test. Think about what being like God means for Jesus—and for us. Turn this stone into bread. If Jesus did that, he could feed not only himself, but some very hungry people, too—we could do a lot of good. Take over the kingdoms of this world. If Jesus were in charge, don’t you think we’d all be a lot better off? He could fulfill all of everyone’s expectations of a Messiah—leader, healer, miracle-worker. Isn’t that what God wanted for him? Isn’t that what he was expected to succeed at? Wouldn’t it be easy for him—and us—to accept what the devil says and really make a difference in this world with a little bit left over for ourselves? If this is all about making the world a better place, then why shouldn’t we try to achieve that by any means possible? If you’re really the Son of God, test your wings. If Jesus were really the Messiah, God would show him and us by way of a miracle. What’s wrong with wanting a little proof?
There is, of course, a problem with this. It leaves God and God’s purposes and how God works in this world out of the picture. In the Devil’s scenario, Jesus makes all the plans, does all the work, gets all the credit, and what God may really want is all but forgotten. Deep down—or not so deep down—what most of us want is to be in charge of our own lives—and if we’re honest, other people’s lives, too. We declare our independence and never look back until circumstances force us to admit we can’t live totally on our own. One of our biggest fears is that despite our bravado we are actually inadequate and unworthy. And because of that we don’t deserve God’s notice or love. Yet the truth is we are dependent on God—and interdependent with each other. Our fear doesn’t change that.
Jesus is put to the test—just as we are—and each time he answers the devil by taking the focus off himself and pointing back to God. Will he fall short? Or will he cling to God and what he knows about himself as God’s Son? The devil says, Turn stones into bread. No, Jesus replies, as empty as my stomach is at the moment, bread isn’t the answer, because in the long run spiritual hunger is worse than physical hunger—I will feed my spirit on God’s word first and the need for real bread will be met as well. The Devil says, take over the kingdoms of this world. No, Jesus replies, we are created to serve God and God only. It is from God that we take our orders and God who gives our lives their meaning. I am not in charge, you are not in charge. God is—and I will not grab worldly power for myself when I can rely on heavenly power. The devil says, if you’re really the Son of God, fly away. No, Jesus replies, I trust God already—my life already is in God’s hands, I don’t need any more proof of this.
Some of you know that I love to finish quilts out of pieces that I find. I have no idea what the original quilter intended, but I often can work with orphan blocks that may have been started and abandoned or left behind when someone died. God does the same thing with us. All those bits and pieces of our lives. Stuff we throw away because we regret it or something we don’t like about ourselves, so we hide it away. We aren’t born a finished product—God uses all of it to keep creating us throughout our lives. Take out a pencil and on your bulletin write these letters:PBPWMGIFWMY. Please be patient with me, God isn’t finished with me yet. Keep that in mind for whenever you’re afraid because you’re falling short. Long after he had left this world, people remembered how Jesus had been tempted. And they knew they weren’t left alone as they struggled to live their lives according to God’s way, feeling unworthy and falling short more often than not. Jesus had gone before them. He has gone before us. Lead us not into temptation, we pray, meaning that when we’re put to the test—and we will be—help is close by. The question is when we fall short—and we will—do we trust that God isn’t finished with us yet?